After a career in education in Pennsylvania, Arnold Hillman and his wife Carol decided to move to Hilton Head, South Carolina, after their retirement. They spent 35 years advocating for children in rural schools.

Here are some unsettling first impressions, which Arnold wrote for this blog:


This will be the 10th week that Carol and I have lived in South Carolina. It just seems like we have been getting settled in, which means unpacking boxes, buying new furniture, reordering our medications and going to copious doctors. The travel through the medical esplanade has been an awakening. We have concluded that the medical care here is superior to that which we received in Harrisburg.

It appears that docs here use the most advanced technology. It is difficult to conceive how much more we will find out as we run through them all. I am now enthused about how I might take the age spots off my hands, or eliminate the need for specs. I was even happy that I will now be able to eliminate some of these pesky growths on my arms and head without having them frozen off. In some ways these are positive things. You can figure out why they might not be.

We are living in a dream world. The community was built starting in 1995. It has every amenity you can think of. It has encouraged us to get into good physical shape. It has so many activities that some people have to take tranquilizers just to keep up. We will not be doing the club circuit as yet. We are more interested in what is going on outside the gates of the community than inside it.

What we found is rather sad. We understood when we moved down here, that Hilton Head Island is an extremely wealthy community. The first bizarre item is that there are tons of thrift shops. I guess when the wealthy change their home décor; they must get rid of their former furniture. It is also a place that houses many older people. That means when they pass (a southern expression) the items in their homes become grist for auctions, so that relatives can turn them into cash. There are even booklets with the names and locations of most of the thrift shops on both Hilton Head and Bluffton (where we live).

Carol and I are pretty much convinced that what we know as “Southern Charm” is just a cover name for racism. The county that we live in is next door to a very poor county. The kids in the schools there – they have county school districts, are 85% minority. In 2010, the graduation rate for the high schools in that county was 39%. Can you believe that, 39%? The well to do and mostly white county, in which we live, serves 21,000 students and is growing at a rate of 500 more students per year. Its schools are either new or are well turned out. Some of the elementary schools that have some poverty seem not to be as well resourced as some others.

The animosity of the community in the poor county can be viewed at every school board meeting. Most of the time, the white board members are attacking the school superintendent. She is African American. She is also very talented and has raised almost every major educational marker since she came here 5 years ago.

Because of her desire to improve the education of the children, she has embarked on a journey that has improved the district as a whole, but has angered those who enjoyed the fruits of a dilapidated system. Things like nepotism had run rampant. The hiring of those without the proper certifications were daily occurrences. School district economic issues were handled behind closed doors. People in the business office were not professionals and budgeting was helter skelter.

This appeared to be o.k. with a board that had seen significant turnover and co-terminus with superintendent turnover.

When the new superintendent arrived from being an assistant in a large city in South Carolina, she began to do away with nepotism. She dispensed with the uncertified staff and got rid of some of the employees that were there only because Uncle Louie insisted on their being hired. This began a minor conflagration with those whose reason for being on the board was to somehow influence the district to send business to them or their friends and family members.

As things started to improve, those who see African Americans with education as “uppity” wanted this all to stop and wanted to put her in her place. This all has a familiar ring to it. At the last election, most of the new board members had a beef with the superintendent. One new member wanted to have her daughter be the homecoming queen, even though she had lost. The mom wanted the superintendent to declare her daughter the winner.

Another member was a longtime volunteer from the wealthy side of the community. He worked at the high school and presented information he had gleaned there to make public presentations about how things were going so poorly. He was asked by the teachers to please leave.

I believe that South Carolina is the only state that buys its buses for all of its school districts. The buses that they purchased are usually used ones and last time they were those from Tennessee. Of the 30 some odd buses in the county, 20 of them are over 20 years old and have over 300,000 miles on them. This puts pressure on rural schools, because you might have some dough to lease other buses, but if not, you are stuck with the ancient ones. If you buy your own buses, the state removes THEIR buses one for one.

Some of our neighbors here in Disneyworld for adults, have never seen or experienced racial bias. I was forced to tell them that they did not look like the people who were being discriminated against. It is our experience that African American women are more likely to tell you what’s going on than African American men. I believe that is because it falls on their children to battle the forces that want to keep them in their place. The moms know what’s ahead for their children and have their feelings on their sleeves.

Carol and I may have some small understanding of discrimination. We have felt it as a result of living in rural communities where there were few or no Jews. There were a few incidents in the schools they went to. They were taken care of by the principals. Sometimes it’s good to be the superintendent of schools. Even the principals began to understand.

We went to a specialist for Carol’s issues in Savannah. Some of the preliminary testing was done by an African American woman in her forties. As the test was quite long, we were able to strike up a conversation with her. I guess, as patients, we were not anyone that she would have to worry about. She was quite frank with us about how the color of your skin meant more to people than what your skills were. She did not complain about having been passed over for a job. She explained that the kind of discrimination that goes on in the hospital must be seen with a wider eye.

Her view was that most of the jobs in the hospital, including physicians and nurses, were the province of those that controlled things. The city itself was set up so that only certain people were permitted to rise to the top. Even with an African American as mayor, the system was always the same. There was kind of a glass ceiling that everyone was just supposed to obey.

There was little of the outward prejudice that one might think was there, but it is more insidious and much less on the surface. Greetings with the terms, ma’am, sir, and so on are plentiful, but the real lack of respect is what happens after the introductions.

“The Corridor of Shame” was a documentary about the schools along rte. 95 in South Carolina. It extends from the North Carolina border to the border of Georgia. It is rife with poverty and schools with insufficient funds. It was also the subject of a lawsuit based on the Abbeville School District that began in 1993 and was concluded just last year. The Supreme Court of South Carolina voted 3-2 for the legislature to produce adequate funding for its schools. The legislature was given to February 2016 to come up with a plan.

The legislature has said that it had no intention of fulfilling that order.
88% of those school districts children are minority. Looks like another victory for Southern Charm.